The 2019 growing season was a wild ride

Written by Walter Ens on Dec 12 2019

Category: Grow Grain

How to cure the hangover for your 2020 crop

Early May crop reports across the west read: seeding progress exceeds the five-year average in most geographies. By the end of May all regions were in need of rain to help crops emerge.  Crop growth was delayed in much of western Canada and most crops fell behind their normal development stages because of lack of moisture, frost, strong winds, hail, and insects such as flea beetles and cutworm.

Hangover symptoms: Farmers across western Canada can expect to feel pressure again in the coming year from early season pests like flea beetles, which some experts are predicting will be as bad or worse than 2019. Soil borne pathogens such as clubroot will continue to be a factor.

Hangover cures: I recommend choosing your seed hybrids using a "Best-for” strategy to identify the products that will set you up to handle the challenges you are likely to encounter in the coming season. Look beyond yield at the other key traits of your hybrids, because if you’re dealing with a pest like clubroot, your yield isn’t likely to reach the levels promised by top yielders that don’t offer resistance.

In June the story turned to drought, with soil moisture estimated between 60 and 85% of normal. This put our team of into action to ensure the crop was as healthy as possible to survive coming environmental stresses and to ensure weeds were controlled so they could not steal available moisture, and nutrients form the crop.

July brought wild storms with some areas reporting standing water and surface runoff while other areas only received a trace of rain. These extremes were not only experienced across regions, but also across individual farms, with one field only getting a sprinkling of rain and the next experiencing surface runoff.

Hangover symptoms: Moisture – first too little, then too much at the wrong time – left farmers fatigued over watching crops struggle to get out of the ground and thrive, then unable to harvest in some cases, or perform post-harvest weed control in many cases. That means winter annuals and perennials got a strong foothold this fall, and could show up with a vengeance come spring.

Hangover cure: The positive is that subsoil moisture has been recharged to near normal levels with only a few areas reporting moderate sub-soil moisture. Because those overwintering weeds will also benefit from the good moisture, I have one simple message: Plan to get at least a percentage of your weeds at pre-seed or post-emergence. Don’t leave all the heavy lifting to your in-crop herbicide plan.

The August long weekend saw temperatures soar above 33 degrees, and by the third week of the month, harvest had started across all regions.

By September reports across the west indicated harvest progress in most areas was behind the five-year average, with warm dry weather needed to allow for harvest progress.

October saw snow and rain, but by the end of November western Canada reported that 90% of the crop was in the bin. That means some crop will remain in the field over winter. However, soybean, grain corn and sunflower harvest is ongoing. 

Hangover symptoms: Field work including soil testing and fall banding of nutrients was dramatically reduced from previous years due to challenging fall conditions and ongoing harvest.

Hangover cure: Watch nutrient levels. Many nutrients will be depleted because of leaching and uptake from last year's crop. Ensure your nutrient plan is based on 4R stewardship principles and focus specifically on the right source of nutrient at the right rate, time and place.

We all know there are few surefire “cures” for many of the challenges that farmers will face in 2020, but taking cues from what we experienced in 2019 is a good place to start your planning process. If you have questions about how to handle a particular production challenge, call your local Cargill team for more information.


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